Why are the Autobots Always Outnumbered?


Hello, Transformers Writers!

Today’s title gets the ball rolling. Lately ‘reboots’ of the Transformers’ genre have the Autobots as the minority in the war for Cybertron – and later, on Earth.


To my mind, there are three answers.

First, you think this is the price the Autobots have to pay for being principled combatants. Since they are less ruthless in battle they are therefore more likely to be killed by the murderous (in some cases bordering on psychotic) Decepticons. Autobots don’t kill needlessly. Decepticons slaughter Autobots in droves, but you write the story so that the Autobots will not respond in kind. This leads to fewer and fewer Autobots while somehow the number of Decepticons either remains stable or continues to grow.

Second, you perceive the Autobots’ principles in the same way as the Decepticons – as weaknesses. Therefore, you have Autobot casualties in direct proportion to their ethics. After all, if an Autobot will not stab a Decepticon in the back then what’s to stop the ‘Con from doing that to him when he (the Autobot) turns around? (A good knock on the head works pretty well from what I’ve seen.)

Third, you consider the Decepticons to be stronger. Therefore you write that they get control of more resources than the Autobots, build bigger and more powerful weapons, and subsequently destroy more Autobots. The Autobots, who largely want peace on Cybertron, would consequently pursue strategic positions and weapons of war in a more ‘principled’ manner than the Decepticons.

These ideas, fellow writers, are false. War is a battle for survival. If either side wishes to survive, they have to fight for it and fight for it aggressively.

This makes the decimation of Autobot forces seem a bit out of proportion, doesn’t it? Being a principled people does not mean that the Autobots would not inflict massive casualties of their own on Decepticon forces. While many Autobots would indeed be more inclined toward peace, that does not mean that they would be willing to forfeit their lives in some delusion that the Decepticons would spare them for that desire. If anything, it would prompt the ‘Cons to finish them on the spot.

War inflicts heavy casualties, but not necessarily to one side. If the two forces are equally matched, and I see no reason why the Autobots would lack either the weaponry to battle the Decepticons or the will power to do so, then the Autobots would not become nearly extinct in the fight for Cybertron as you have portrayed. Their numbers would nearly match those of the Decepticons.

Unfortunately for us Autobot fans, the same would go for the Decepticons. They would not suffer near total annihilation either. Both sides should be able to meet as equals in the number of combatants and the potency of their weapons. If the Autobots want peace, then it stands to reason that they will fight for it. Anyone who wants something enough is usually willing to work hard to get it. The Autobots are, and should be, no exception.

If there are an equal number of Autobot and Decepticon warriors in a story, that means there would be a greater number of sales for merchandise resulting from the shows. One thing that can be guaranteed in any story is the viewers’ desire to be a part of it. Many children have armies of toys of their favorite ‘Bots and ‘Cons, which they send into battle whenever they get the chance. If there are as many Autobots in a story as there are Decepticons, then those armies of toys can only get larger.

So, to quote a well-known Transformer line, fellow writers, “Autobots, roll out!”


Mithril (An Exasperated Fan)

2 thoughts on “Why are the Autobots Always Outnumbered?

  1. sullysgirl

    Dear Mithril,

    Well argued points, but I would like to suggest a different approach.

    Fiction always operates in a universe which resembles the reader’s own. The degree of resemblance matters, of course, in part because our intuitions about how to treat or “tag” what we read in fiction are shaped by the overlap between our understanding of or assumptions about the world and those presented to us in the fiction we’re reading (or watching). The greater the overlap (especially in mundane details) the higher our expectation that the characters and their situations will more or less completely conform to the principles, laws, behaviours of the real (i.e. non-fictional) world. The less marked the overlap, or, conversely, the greater the discrepancies between our knowledge of the world and the conditions of the fictional world, the lower our expectations that significant aspects of our experience will matter in the fictional universe.

    It seems to me that your argument rests on a kind of cross-cutting between fiction and non-fiction which, while compelling to the extent that it draws attention to the reality of armed or military conflict, underplays the crucial distinction between the two. Fiction exists to tell the reader something the writer wants him to notice, or pay attention to, or think, or change. Fantasy fiction, such as Transformers, is not aimed primarily at an adult audience but at younger viewers or readers. Hence, the communicative goal of these stories is not necessarily to direct the readers’ attention to the grimy realities of conflict, but to involve the viewer in an exciting tale of, frankly, pretty fancy car/robots. The attraction of the Autobots is tied up with their relatively youthful moral stance, the absolute division between good and evil, which is not only fairly easy for a young audience to understand, but is also spellbinding for children and adolescents who are learning to make their way in a world whose complications are becoming increasingly obvious to them. The division and the absoluteness of the Autobots’ morality assure the readers and viewers that, no matter how muddled some questions may become, there is an abiding and trustworthy and true centre of goodness, and a definite (if not always defined) wilderness of evil

    As to why the Autobots are always outnumbered: Why is there only one hero in most heroes’ tales? Because the story is the story _of_ the hero: a quest through a moral or existential quagmire that leads him or her to the realisation and the activation of the hero within. It is entirely true that real wars are often long, complex, tiring, and morally ambiguous affairs. No matter how high and noble your principles, if you are engaged in combat you will inflict injury, damage, death on someone. These may be inevitable, even deserved, but of course you are the agent or the means by which these terrible effects are brought about, and they must and will weigh heavy on any conscience worth the name.

    As well, the Autobots are outnumbered because in this genre — fantasy fiction aimed primarily at the young adult audience, in serial format — the goal of every story is to win the battle but not the war, because once the war is won the peace begins and the series is at an end.

    For fantasy fiction aimed at an older audience, in serial format, I recommend the new Battlestar Galactica. Here you will find the vastly outnumbered heroes whose heroism is constantly tested not only by circumstances but by the decisions and actions of the heroes themselves. Are they brave, outnumbered heroes, a “rag tag” army? or are they the remnants of an oppressive, aggressive people of uncertain morality and dubious character? The series aims not to replay the same story each time but rather to advance a much longer and more intriguing narrative arc that investigates what it means to be human.

    Finally: the Autobots have to be outnumbered, from the crassest of considerations, because otherwise their triumph would have no value. Not much to admire in watching an elephant crush a flea.

    Well written as ever, and clearly thought provoking!

    1. The Mithril Guardian Post author

      Dear sullysgirl,

      I will stipulate to all your suggestions. ☺ However, when writing the post I had a slightly different point in mind. Also, the title for this article could have been better. The Autobots have not ‘always’ been outnumbered, and in retrospect this makes the heading appear something of a misnomer.

      In the original Transformers’ series, the number of Autobot and Decepticon warriors was roughly balanced. Throughout that series’ run, the team sizes differed marginally. Recalling this I wondered why the dynamic has changed in recent years. Many of the characters present in the original series are now left out; they are characters who may be worth exploring in a new way. Therefore, my overarching point was to say that the writers should not forget these other characters, many of whom may also deserve some of the limelight.

      I do see and understand that it is probably better for the Autobots to be at a numerical disadvantage. It does make the stories more interesting and sets the stakes higher. But to send five Autobots (though their numbers may increase slightly during the series’ airing) up against a warship carrying seemingly endless hoards of Decepticons appears to make the plot grossly tilted in the Decepticons’ favor (as I mentioned in the post).

      Again, I understand and greatly appreciate your suggestions as to why the writers would keep the members of an Autobot team small. For instance, Stargate SG-1 shows that an “army of four” can accomplish feats others might believe possible only for an army of thousands. And when one starship with a crew of four hundred successfully defeats the Klingon and Romulan Empires, thereby shining brighter than any other ship in Starfleet during the mission, its crew again proves that “the few and the proud” can be more effective than overwhelming numbers.

      I was not thinking of these things when I wrote the post. In light of your suggestions the writers’ actions now make a tad more sense. In future posts I shall keep your advice in mind. ☺

      Thank you very much for your comments. I look forward to hearing from you again!



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